Gender and Sexuality in Renaissance France

CRN 30314 / Tu 2:30PM - 4:55PM / 1325 Cathedral of Learning
Questions of gender and sexuality were central to the development of the French Renaissance in the sixteenth century. “La querelle des femmes”—the debate over the nature and status of women —became a major focus in literary and cultural texts of the period, both for men and for women who argued at length about whether men and women were “equal.” While women could not be queens in France because of a curious institution called “Salic Law,” female regents nonetheless asserted political power in the kingdom. Because the development of Renaissance Humanism had major implications for constructs of masculinity and femininity, the seminal question Joan Kelly asked in the 70’s “Did Women have a Renaissance?” can still be asked, though perhaps in different terms. The study of the ancients, while at the basis of the Renaissance, provoked great anxiety as writers and thinkers reworked the less attractive aspects of Greek and Latin texts in a Christian world. Non-normative or queer morphologies of gender and sexuality also became popular in literary, visual, and cultural texts as hermaphrodites and other monsters appeared with surprising frequency. Stories of sex change circulated in literary and medical texts of the period, and male poets wrote “lesbian” poems. Ancient and Italian texts afforded new definitions of masculine and feminine identity, as well as love and desire, in a post-medieval world defined by fragmentation and fluidity. In this seminar, we will examine and interrogate key cultural constructs of gender and sexuality conveyed in texts of early modern France. This central issue will lead us to consider many of the main cultural and literary currents of the period—such as Humanism, Neoplatonism, Aristotelianism, marriage, medicine, friendship, kingship, politics—and thus provide students with little or no background in Renaissance studies an understanding of the century’s context. We will read both canonical and non-canonical writers (Rabelais, Montaigne, Labé, Paré, Artus), but we will also use various cultural discourses to organize our thinking (e.g. the body in medical texts, masculinity in tracts on friendship, regents in satirical texts). At the same time, we will examine relations between the early modern period and select recent approaches in gender studies—including theoretical issues around masculinity, the sex/gender distinction, gender fluidity, transgenderism, the body, and same-sex sexualities. The course thus aims to give students the opportunity to think about how to go about studying questions of gender and sexuality when such questions are at the fore in the Humanities, and it aims to help students think about how to contextualize theoretical questions around gender within a specific socio-historical context. Course taught in French.

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Todd Reeser

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Category B: Disciplines and Intellectual Movements

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